Monday, August 07, 2006

Players 2

Before driving over to the Southeast Precinct, Summer had checked out Edie’s stepfather, Randy Farrell, on the computer, and confirmed her suspicion that he had a record. White male, black hair, brown eyes. Five foot seven, one hundred forty pounds -- not a big guy, but he had thirty pounds and a couple of inches on her. His D.O.B. made him fifty-four years old. No scars or other identifying marks, no FBI number . . . Most of his crimes were minor -- housebreaking, receiving or attempting to sell stolen goods -- and he’d been given plenty of second chances or through plea agreements had received probation instead of jail time, which made Summer suspect that he was some detective’s confidential informant. But he’d served time in the gladiatorial arena of state prison at Salem after having been convicted of conspiracy to rob, and with no less than three charges of assault to his name it looked as if he was quick to use his fists. She remembered that he’d sat right behind his stepdaughter in the courtroom, arms folded across the front of his denim jacket, hair lacquered back from his temples, sucking on a permanently sour expression; remembered how he’d bulled up to her in the busy corridor outside the courtroom after Edie Collier had been sentenced, asking her how she liked sending a young girl to jail, turning on his heel and stomping off after she’d advised him to take it up with the judge. Randy Farrell’s wife, Edie Collier’s mother, had a record of violence, too: threatening behaviour and several charges of assault, including one on a high-school teacher that had gotten her a year’s probation, plus one charge of public drunkenness and three DUIs; her driver’s licence had been suspended after the last, two months ago.

Anticipating trouble, Summer was happy to have Laura at her back as she walked up to the bungalow. It was dusk now. Lights were burning in a couple of the bungalow’s windows, but Summer had to lean on the doorbell for more than a minute before she saw movement behind the three stepped panes of frosted glass in the front door. When it opened, Summer straightened her back and held up her badge, saw from the corner of her eye Laura move her right hand towards the Glock holstered on her hip. But the man who stood in the doorway was a skinny scarecrow, barefoot in a dressing gown that hung open over a T-shirt and boxer shorts, his face sallow and sunken and sporting the makings of a black eye. It took Summer a long moment to recognize in this ruin the man she’d faced down outside the courtroom just six months ago.

He stared at Summer without seeming to recognize her, stared at Laura, and said, ‘Whatever you’re selling, I don’t need it.’

Summer asked if she could speak with his wife.

‘What kind of trouble has she gotten herself into now?’

‘She isn’t in any trouble that I know of, Mr Farrell. Could you have her come to the door?’

‘Lucinda ain’t in any fit state to talk to the police. Why don’t you come back tomorrow?’
‘It’s about her daughter, Mr Farrell. If she can’t come to the door, you should let us in. We need to talk with her.’

The man’s attitude, a junkyard dog defending its turf, evaporated. ‘This is about Edie? What happened? Is she hurt, in hospital somewhere?’

‘Let us in, Mr Farrell. We need to talk to your wife.’

‘Oh Jesus,’ Randy Farrell said, and closed his eyes for a moment.

Laura said, ‘We don’t want to talk about this out here, Mr Farrell, in full view of your neighbours, and I’m sure you don’t want to either. So why don’t we go inside?’

‘I guess,’ Randy Farrell said, standing aside. ‘But I should warn you, Lucinda’s more than half in the bag, and she ain’t taking prisoners.’

Summer and Laura followed him down a narrow hall stacked with cardboard cartons. The air was hot and close, and stank of cigarette smoke and greasy cooking.

‘In there,’ Randy Farrell said, with a wave of a hand towards an archway filled with the flicker of TV light.

Lucinda Farrell slumped on a plastic-covered couch, a blown-up bear of a woman in a pink sweatshirt and grey sweatpants, clutching a tall glass half-full of icecubes to her bosom as she watched Oprah on the big TV across the room. A fifth of vodka, a gallon jug of orange juice, a washing-up bowl heaped with popcorn, and an ashtray full of cigarette stubs crowded a bamboo coffee table. When Summer stepped into the room, Lucinda Farrell looked at her and said with shrill but forceful scorn that cut through the laughter and applause of Oprah’s audience, ‘I got nothing to say to any cops, so why don’t the both of you march straight on out of here.’

Randy Farrell said from the archway, ‘Take it easy, why don’t you? They got something to tell you. About Edie.’

‘Edie? Fuck her. Fuck you too, for letting in these fuckers.’

Summer switched on the ceiling lights and in the sudden glare crossed the room and punched off the TV and took a position directly in front of the woman on the couch. Laura was standing just inside the archway, ready to block Randy Farrell if he tried to cause trouble. Summer said, ‘How about we start over, Mrs Farrell?’

The woman stared at Summer. Bleached hair dry as straw stuck out around her pugnacious face. ‘My daughter ran out on me four months back. Anything she did, it isn’t my problem, she’s over eighteen now. So how about you say what you got to say and get out.’

Summer waited a beat, making it clear that she was doing this in her own time. ‘Mrs Farrell, your daughter was found badly injured this morning, in woods near a town by the name of Cedar Falls. I’m very sorry to have to tell you that she died on the way to hospital.’

‘Jesus Christ,’ Randy Farrell said softly.

Lucinda Farrell leaned forwards and with the frowning concentration of a small child sloshed a good three fingers of vodka into her glass. She added a splash of orange juice, sucked down half the drink, and said to no one in particular, ‘So that’s that.’

‘Mrs Farrell, the Sheriff’s office in Cedar Falls would like you to make a formal identification -- ’

The woman flapped a hand. ‘She was dead to me when she left this house. I told her so, she said she didn’t give a fuck, and she hasn’t been back since. So why should I give a fuck now?’

‘You need to do the right thing by your daughter,’ Summer said.

‘I already done all I could by her,’ Lucinda Farrell said flatly, and drained the rest of her drink.

Summer tried to talk her around, but the woman retreated into stubborn silence, clutching her glass in her swollen paws and glaring at a spot somewhere beyond Summer’s left shoulder. At last, Summer said, ‘I’ll come back tomorrow. We’ll talk about this again.’

‘Switch on the fucking TV on your way out. I wanna see Oprah ask Demi Moore about her toyboy.’

Summer ignored her request, and in the hallway asked Randy Farrell if Edie’s biological father lived in Portland.

‘He died in a car accident way before I met Lucinda. Edie kept his name, but if she has a father -- Jesus, had one -- it would be me.’

Summer said, ‘I’ll have to come back tomorrow, Mr Farrell. I have to talk to your wife again.’

‘Won’t do any good.’

‘The local police need her to ID her daughter. It’s a formality, but it has to be done before they can release the body. And at some point your wife will have to think about funeral arrangements.’

Randy Farrell shook his head. ‘Lucinda meant what she said about Edie being dead to her. She never once tried to find her after she ran off, never once visited her when she was in jail . . . ’

‘Talk to her, Mr Farrell. Tell her that she needs to do the right thing by Edie. I’ll come by
tomorrow morning, talk to her again.’

‘She sets her mind to something, that’s it. Edie was the same way.’ Randy Farrell looked at Summer and said, ‘How she ended up, out there in the woods. You have any idea how she got there?’

‘I’m sorry, Mr Farrell. It isn’t my case.’

Before setting out for the Southeast Precinct, Summer had called the Cedar Falls Sheriff’s office and talked briefly with Denise Childers, the detective in charge of the case. The woman had been friendly enough, but hadn’t given anything away.

Randy Farrell said, ‘She didn’t have any reason to leave Portland I knew of. You should ask her boyfriend what she was doing out there.’

When Summer had been given this job, she’d believed that she wouldn’t get much out of it. If she messed up, she would confirm Ryland Nelsen’s unvoiced suspicion that she was a hotshot promoted beyond her experience and capability. And if she did okay she’d probably be landed with every next-of-kin notification the Robbery Unit had to deal with: it was the kind of dirty, thankless task that male cops liked to pass on to their female colleagues because, according to them, women had better people skills. Now, though, she felt a twinge of interest and said, ‘Do you have a name and address for this boyfriend?’

Randy Farrell stared past her for a moment, then said, ‘I think it was Billy something.’

‘Do you have a last name? An address?’

Randy Farrell shook his head. ‘I never met the guy, and I only talked to Edie one time after she took up with him. She told me she and him were living out of his van. I wasn’t too happy, hearing that, but she said she was doing fine.’

‘When did she leave home?’

‘First week in February, just after her birthday. She and her mother had a big bust-up.’

‘And she ran off to be with her boyfriend?’

Randy Farrell shrugged.

‘How long had she known him?’

‘Let’s put it this way, I’d never heard of him before she ran off.’

‘Does he have a job?’

‘I wouldn’t know.’

‘They were living in his van. Where did they park at night?’

‘Somewhere over near the airport I think.’

Laura said, ‘I’ll ask the guys in the Northeast Precinct to keep a look out. Mr Farrell, do you know if they had a regular spot where they parked at night? Up in Piedmont, maybe? Maywood Park?’

‘Somewhere near the airport, that’s all I know.’

‘How about you tell me something about this van,’ Laura said. ‘Make, colour -- anything at all.’
‘Like I said, I never met him, and I never saw his van either.’

Summer said, ‘Take your time, Mr Farrell. Anything you can remember could be a big help.’

‘I remember that she was happy, when I saw her. She had plans, she was thinking of going back to school . . . What will happen to her if no one looks after her? To her body, I mean?’

Summer said, ‘If no one claims her, the state will serve as sponsor.’

‘Yeah, that’s what I thought. And the state will bury her in a cardboard coffin without a marker. She doesn’t deserve that.’ Randy Farrell paused, then told Summer, ‘I know who you are. You’re the one arrested Edie just before Christmas. You were in uniform then, but I don’t forget a face. Listen, it’s okay, I’m not blaming you for what happened to her, but how about cutting me a break?’

‘If you want to help Edie, Mr Farrell, you should persuade your wife to go make the ID.’

‘You need someone to make the ID? How about you take me to Cedar Falls,’ Randy Farrell said.

‘I’ll take care of whatever arrangements need to be made, too. I have money.’

‘Perhaps I should come by tomorrow and talk to your wife again.’

‘It won’t make no difference. But I want to do right by Edie, even if Lucinda doesn’t.’

Summer saw that the man was genuinely upset. ‘I’ll tell the police in Cedar Falls about your offer, Mr Farrell. That’s the best I can do right now.’

‘I was like a father to her, you understand? I helped raise her for more than ten years, I want to do right by her now . . . You tell them that. Also, you should explain that I have cancer of the liver and I can’t drive on account of my medication, the side effects. I get these blackouts. So you tell them, if they want someone to ID her, either you take me, or they’ll have to come get me.’

Summer took out one of her cards and handed it to him. ‘If you remember anything you think might be useful, anything at all, give me a call and I’ll pass it on to the detective in charge of the case. But right now, Mr Farrell, maybe you should go look after your wife. I think she’s more shaken up than she lets on.’

Outside, Laura Killinger hitched up her Garrison belt and said, ‘Edie Collier was brought up by those two, and all she had on her sheet was shoplifting? She must have been some kind of saint.’


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